EPA Says Bay Area Ozone Air Pollution Levels Too High

Cars and trucks continue to cause region to violate the health-based standards


Brian Smith, Earthjustice 510-550-6714

The US Environmental Protection Agency has sent a draft nonattainment designation to Governor Schwarzenegger stating that the Bay Area will not meet the new 8-hour standard for ozone air pollution.

The final designation of nonattainment is expected in April 2004. This is a setback for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District who in October of this year had proclaimed victory over the region’s air pollution by meeting the earlier federal ozone standard known as the 1-hour standard.

New Ozone Standard Protects Public Health

The new 8-hour ozone standard is based on average air quality measurements over eight hours, rather than over one hour under the 1-hour ozone standard. The new 8-hour standard is more protective of public health because it seeks to protect people from the negative health effects of breathing lower levels of ozone over longer periods of time, more closely resembling actual conditions of exposure.

The human health effects from ozone pollution are extremely serious. A recent study indicates that elevated levels of ozone not only exacerbate, but may actually cause, asthma in children who are active outdoors. Asthma is now the leading cause of hospital admissions of young children in California. In addition, ozone causes many other harmful respiratory effects, including chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, decreases in lung function of up to 20% or more, inflammation of lung tissues, and changes in lung tissue and structure. Moreover, ozone is not an equal opportunity pollutant, striking hardest the most vulnerable segments of our population: children, the elderly, and people with respiratory ailments.

Air pollution problems can be attributed largely to the region’s dependence on cars and trucks as the primary mode of transportation. The agency responsible for reducing air pollution from transportation sources is the Metropolitan Transit Commission. This draft finding that the Bay Area fails to meet the new federal 8-hour standard comes at a time when MTC is fighting the implementation of a measure that would reduce the region’s air pollution from cars and trucks by increasing the use of public transportation.

Regional Transit Agency Drops the Ball

In 1982, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission adopted a measure to increase regional transit ridership 15 percent by 1987. This measure was designed to move drivers out of private cars and into cleaner public transportation. Unfortunately, MTC never lived up to its obligations to fund transit improvements to meet this target. Today, Bay Area transit ridership is still roughly at 1982 levels, despite a 30 percent increase in population.

Earthjustice, representing a coalition of Bay Area environmental and community groups, filed suit against MTC in 2001 to force implementation of TCM 2, the transportation control measure adopted 20 years ago by MTC to meet its Clean Air Act obligations. Two federal court rulings found that MTC must achieve and maintain the 15 percent ridership increase under the Clean Air Act and that it has failed to do so. MTC appealed, claiming it had no duty to meet its previous commitments. More recently, MTC filed a claim with the court arguing that since the 1-hour ozone standard may have been temporarily met, it should no longer be required to increase ridership by the required 15 percent.

California Regional Office managing attorney Deborah Reames said, “Air pollution from Bay Area motor vehicles takes a significant toll on human health. Perhaps if MTC put more effort into offering commuters clean, reliable transit options, we would be in a better position to meet the 8-hour ozone standard. Instead, MTC has decided to dig in its heels and resist its obligation to increase ridership, even when under court order to do so.”

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.